A former soldier has told the Ballymurphy inquest that it is possible he inadvertently shot and killed a bystander instead of a man he says was throwing petrol bombs.

Known only as witness M3, the ex-soldier was giving evidence in a courtroom about the shooting for the first time in almost five decades.

The family of 31-year-old Edward Doherty, who was killed during three days of gunfire in Ballymurphy in August 1971, were at the inquest to hear what M3 had to say.

Edward Doherty was a 31-year-old father-of-four. Credit: Family photo

Back in 1971, the witness was a sapper in the Royal Engineers.

He was attached to the Parachute Regiment for a few days with the specific job of clearing barricades following the introduction of internment.

He described how he was trying to dismantle a large barricade on the Whiterock Road while coming under attack from a hostile crowd who were hurling bricks, acid and petrol bombs.

He said one of the petrol bombs struck his military tractor and, when he saw a man throwing the missiles at him, he fired one bullet from his sub-machine gun.

“I was shooting at his upper chest to kill because I thought my life was in danger,” the soldier said.

The family of Edward Doherty insist their relative was an innocent bystander who was shot in the back while some distance from the barricade.

During Monday’s proceedings, counsel for the Coroner asked the former solder: “Is there a chance you may have missed the man with the petrol bombs and hit another man further up the road?”

He replied: “There is always a possibility. Not every shot is a bullseye. It could have happened.”

The soldier, who received a military medal for his actions that day in Ballymurphy, will continue giving evidence on Tuesday.